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Police Break Up Church Service For Activists

December 7, 1988

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AP) _ Police entered a church sanctuary Tuesday night and halted a peaceful service dedicated to black anti-apartheid activists convicted of treason and terrorism.

The Rev. Allan Boesak was addressing about 1,000 people at the Central Methodist Church in downtown Johannesburg when more than two dozen policemen walked in and canceled the service.

Police formed a wall between the pulpit and the audience, which had turned out in support of the 11 activists convicted last month.

″This government does not know justice and does not have a vision of peace,″ Boesak said before police intervened. ″A government that can only depend on the barrel of a gun ... is not a legitimate government.″

The Rev. Peter Storey, minister of the church, said police declared the service an illegal gathering.

Storey led a brief prayer, then asked the audience to leave ″quietly and with dignity.″ The multiracial crowd departed without incident.

″The police said they wanted to talk to me, but I told them I had nothing to say to them,″ Boesak said outside the church.

During a fiery speech that drew repeated applause, Boesak praised the convicted activists as peaceful men and condemned South Africa’s justice system.

″We now hear that to oppose apartheid is treason, to work for justice is terrorism,″ Boesak said.

By law and custom, apartheid establishes a racially segregated society in which South Africa’s 26 million blacks have no vote in national affairs. The 5 million whites control the economy and maintain separate districts, schools and health services.

Organizers of the service originally had planned a rally at a nearby university. But when Police Commissioner Gen. Hendrik de Witt on Tuesday banned all protest meetings related to the case, organizers decided to hold the prayer service.

A hearing began Monday in Pretoria to determine the sentences for the activists, who include three senior leaders of the now-banned United Democratic Front, the country’s largest anti-apartheid group.

U.S. Sens. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., and David Boren, D-Okla., attended the hearing Monday but issued no public statements. No hearing was held Tuesday, but it was to resume Wednesday.

The trial began in 1985 in the small farming town of Delmas and later was shifted to Pretoria. Eleven of the orginal 22 defendants were acquitted at various stages.

The trial judge, Kees van Dijkhorst, ruled that the United Democratic Front was a revolutionary organization which collaborated with the outlawed African National Congress to incite anti-government violence in 1984. Boesak, Anglican Archbishop Desmong Tutu, the Nobel laureate, and other front supporters were named as unindicted co-conspirators.

The three best-known defendants in the trial, all convicted of treason, are Popo Molefe, 36, who was the front’s national secretary; Terror Lekota, 40, its publicity secretary; and Moses Chikane, 40, secretary of its Transvaal Province branch.

The maximum penalty for treason and terrorism is death, but van Dijkhorst is expected to impose prison terms when the sentencing hearing ends, possibly this week.

Several of the country’s leading anti-apartheid figures testified Monday on behalf of the defendants.

After the treason verdicts were delivered last month, the U.S. State Department criticized the proceedings, saying the defendants were convicted of activities that would be accepted in any legitimate democracy.

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